Thinking Anglicans has the story that all of us in the Scottish Episcopal Church should be thinking about at the moment. One of the most important stories that concerns Episcopalians in Scotland for quite a while.

It is to do with the recent release of figures from the last census – the one that was conducted in 2011.

The figures are absolutely fascinating.

Firstly, there are a lot more people who claim to think of themselves as Anglicans in Scotland than might have been expected. However, the majority, the vast majority of them don’t think of themselves as Scottish Episcopalians.

Here are the figures:

Church of England 66,717
Episcopalian 21,289
Scottish Episcopal Church 8,048
Anglican 4,490
Church of Ireland 2,020
Church in Wales 453
Total 103,017

Now there is a lot to say and I’ll probably not say it all today.

Firstly, notice how many people in Scotland claim to be Church of England.

If we add together those making a claim on an identity that thinks of itself as Episcopal we get 29 337. That is less than half of those who claim to be Church of England.

We’ve got a wee identity crisis and we need to start to think about it.

Now, note the number of people who were actually turning up at church in the same year (drawn from the Annual Report of the Scottish Episcopal Church). This was 14 126. So about 14% of those who claim to be Anglicans in Scotland are turning up on a typical Sunday in the Scottish Episcopal Church.

We’ve got a wee turning up problem and we need to start to think about it.

Now, take a look at the number of people whom the church claims belong to it – again from the Annual Report. That same year we claimed that we had a membership of 34 916 whilst we had a communicant membership of 24 650.

For a church which is in so many places primarily a Eucharistic church (that’s what we do) then we’ve got a wee faith problem and we need to start thinking about it.

I was very keen that we discuss the church’s statistics at last year’s General Synod. We did talk about them but I’m not entirely sure we did as much with them as I had hoped we would. The Primus tried to be upbeat about them and say that you don’t learn everything about a church by its statistics and that he found things to be hopeful.

For myself, I only partly agree with him. I think there is a lot of hope about in the Scottish Episcopal Church – far more than amongst my presbyterian friends whose church, despite being many times bigger than my own, seems to be collapsing at a local level all across the country. However, I think we can learn things from numbers and I wish these census statistics had been available at Synod. I think that reflecting creatively on the numbers is something that we need to do at every synod.

Disappointingly we don’t have census figures that we can apportion to dioceses – if we did we could see positions of relative strength and look at where the church was doing least well at attracting people who not only ought to be connected to it but actually claim to government that they are connected.

Here are some hunches:

  • We’ve a significant branding problem. There’s only one church of the Anglican Communion in Scotland yet even the census report (based on write in responses) has six different lines relating to us.
  • Some of the people who claim to be Church of England will make their way to the Church of Scotland and never know the difference. This infuriates Episcopalians but we should be thinking about why we are so invisible to those people.
  • The various diocesan mission schemes that are underway are not working terribly well and not likely to work terribly well. They all seem to have been devised by people who are living in an age before the internet began. None are using particularly well, the central tool that people use to drive trade, create impact, generate conversation. Until we start to get this right we are going to decline. Individual churches which opt out of this are opting out of survival.
  • We need to talk about our identity in terms relating to various levels of debate about Scotland and England. A long time ago, Canon Alice Mann (who helped us so much as a Province) said that we needed to do a lot more work on this. We’ve not done it and we are suffering from not having done it.
  • Our corporate identity (motto, visuals and name) are such that they always need explaining and are used badly. I’ve been to churches recently who have described themselves (in every font and style imaginable) as:
    • Scottish Episcopal Church
    • Scottish Episcopal Church (Anglican)
    • Scottish Episcopal Church (Anglican Communion)
    • Scottish Episcopal Church (In full communion with the Church of England)
    • A member church of the Anglican Communion and Evangelical Alliance
    • and with no denominational affiliation at all. (eg my own congregation).
  • Numbers matter hugely
  • We need to work very hard on our national profile. Bishops have a special role to play here and though they’ve been doing a lot better at being local voices in the press recently we are not really creating much Scotland-wide impact.
  • We’ve changed our corporate identity before and at least have to talk about doing so again.
  • The Mission and Ministry Board cannot focus on anything because its remit is too large. It needs to be split in two and there needs to be a rethink of which committees go with which boards. For example, maybe Communications and Mission (or even better Outreach or Evangelism) have something to do with one another.
  • Mission is a word that is so widely and inappropriately used that it now means nothing except when one is applying for a diocesan grant.

Our identity crisis is revealed by asking people from outside the church what they think we are. “Oh, are you the Church of Richard Holloway?” say the intelligensia. (Yes, still they do).

“Oh, aren’t you just the English Church?” say a whole bunch of others.

Now we need to think about these things. What should our next step be?


  1. The Church needs a good marketing strategy for sure. And a start would be to hire a Social Media Consultant to produce a strategy proposal for raising awareness of the Church and what we are all about.

    …not that I’m putting us forward for the job or anything…;-)

  2. frdougal says

    I agree but i’m not sure I have any answers. I think the “A” word has to be in there. But is it used overseas (i.e. in America) to define a difference between the official Anglican communion (TEC) and the more conservative version (ACNA etc)? It would be helpful to know that before thinking about branding.

    • The A word certainly is used to indicate a more conservative version of the faith in the USA and in other places.

  3. Hmm, yes, the numbers are interesting, particularly the ~30% of membership that are non-communicant (it’s not that they show up every Sunday and stay in the pews during communion; what *do* these cloud-of-lurkers do?).

    1.5 things, however.

    0.5) If you optimize by numbers, you’ll end up optimal at the quantities the numbers measure. Next year, there’ll be some more numbers. All they do is reflect the state at a point in time.

    1) Organic breeds realism. Piskie-dom has got where it is by being true to itself. However good the overarching vision might be, if you seek to impose it from the top down but leave the specific implementations to individuals to interpret, you *will* get fragmentation. The art comes, not in forming committees and boards for everything, but in devising guiding principles and letting people evolve to fulfill them, with the authenticity of working them out in practice for themselves. Simple analogy: picture a king leading an army into battle: from his perspective, he orders the cavalry to present a uniform front line; from the individual soldier’s perspective, that translates into booting his horse a step forwards or backwards until reasonable consensus along the line is achieved. While numbers make kings, note how much isn’t prescribed.

  4. One of the problems about the E word is that, while historically it expressed the USP of the Church, differentiating it/us from the Presbyterians and their “government by the elders”, nowadays it is not functional in that sense. I would imagine that vanishingly few are attracted to Piskie services because of the management structure! Perhaps the marketing strategy might be to promote the Episcopalians Do It with great music, or with great liturgy or fab costumes or integrity….

  5. One (no doubt minor) addition to the list of reasons why those who show up as Piskies on the census are not showing up in the pews:

    We can’t get to one. I worship with the local Church of Scotland because out here they’re pretty much the only show in town – if I want to go to an Episcopalian service (and believe me, I do) then I must lead it myself (which is pretty limiting as a layman) or make a round trip of at least 25 hours. I was raised in the CofE but now, naturally, consider myself an Episcopalian; but I won’t show up on lists of members or communicants.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few hundred people in my situation across the more remote areas of Scotland.

    • Agreed. My experience of rural Piskie-dom has been a complete turn-off, even without as much as a 25-hour turnaround(!).

      When I lived in Argyll, it was 15mi either way to Oban cathedral: 3 times in 6-9 months I tried and could not crack the congregation, left to be a wallflower over coffee in the narthex. OTOH merely 11mi in the other direction were the CoS with a friendly congregation, an excellent progressive minister and plenty scope to use my abilities. No-brainer.

      AaTI emailed me their monthly diocesan newsletter for about 3-4 years during which time I never attended a single function in the diocese. Says it all.

  6. Steven says

    Being the Church of Richard Holloway is a good start in my books! There is a yearning out there, but it is not for smug doctrinal certainties dressed up in a family friendly, bible believing package. People yearn [as I do] for a spiritual home, real, authentic, full of doubts and loves [another Holloway-ism].

  7. The various diocesan mission schemes that are underway are not working terribly well and not likely to work terribly well. They all seem to have been devised by people who are living in an age before the internet began.

    Mission is a word that is so widely and inappropriately used that it now means nothing except when one is applying for a diocesan grant.

    To this I would have to say –

    Not by Twitter nor by Facebook but by my Spirit says the Lord Almighty.

  8. As a priest in the Australian manifestation of the Anglican Church let me assure you that almost 40 years since we stopped being the Church of England in Australia people still identify as C of E. Worse still non-Anglicans still think of us the same. They still insist that the Queen is the ‘Head’ of the Anglican Church of Australia….even though she had no roll even in the C of E in Australia other than the fact that she happens to be a communicant member one of the constituent churches of the Communion.
    The problem I have with the word Episcopal is that I don’t actually believe “Episcopal” is actually what defines Anglicanism…
    I can understand historically why your Scottish church is called The Episcopal Church and even why (because of historic links) the American Anglican Church is so named…but there is so much more to being an Anglican than just having bishops

  9. Interesting figures. I find the 11,746 Jedi Knights while the Humanists could only rack up 2,992 a bit worrying. People who put down no religion (as opposed to putting down something such as Jedi Knight or Humanist that the census classified as no religion) were 1,921,018 which makes them as the single largest group. However what exactly do people in that group believe?

  10. The interesting thing about the Jedi, looking over 2 censuses, is that they are declining faster than the churches.

  11. I’d always thought there were about 20,000 Piskies. The odd thing about these figures is they offer 4 ways of being Anglican in Scotland (Episcopalian, SEC, Anglican and Church of England.) Added together it looks like there could be around 100,000 Anglicans in Scotland (71k CofE/Anglican and 29k Piskie/SEC).

    According to the Scottish Church Census of 2002, there were only 18,870 Episcopalians in Scotland – so looks like the SEC is doing OK. (Although in-house figures for 2002 put it at 45k). At the high point in the 1920s the SEC had supposedly 140000 members and touching 60,000 communicants – our decline in 90 years has been steep, of course, but has levelled, and, as others have pointed out, the damage has been far less severe than elsewhere.

  12. I wonder what the breakdown is of religion and Scottish/non-Scottish born is. If many who put down CoE were born and baptized in England and haven’t set foot in a church since (except perhaps to attend weddings and funerals) that might explain why they don’t know that north of the border the equivalent is the Piskies. They now live in Scotland and put down CoE as a reflex though for all intents and purposes they are non-religious.

  13. Absolutely. Confusing the SEC with the Church of Scotland is a dilemma that I have to deal with regularly within the African communities in Scotland.
    I couldn’t agree more with your suggestions around mission and growth strategy. It’s not and will not work until, they are professionally redesigned in line with contemporary expectations and style.
    I made the same points you are making in one of our frustrating TISEC meetings, the church is tarnishing away in the hands of people who are either to lazy to be imaginative or who simply don’t care about the future. I honestly have one prayer, people like you to become in charge one day!

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